2015: The Year Smartphone OEMs Evolved And Did Things Differently

201516-year-review
Bye 15. Hello 16.

Another year draws to an end, and looking back, one can’t help but marvel at all the devices that were launched in 2015. We’ve seen phones raise the bar for upcoming flagships, we’ve seen growth of the wearable sector, the popularization of concepts such as secondary displays and fingerprint sensors, and the budget players upping their game.

But most of all, one trait was somewhat common to most smartphone manufacturers in 2015 – the trait of bringing about an unorthodox perspective.  Be it Apple, BlackBerry, or even Microsoft: we’ve seen them do things one wouldn’t have expected some while back. And while it might be a step towards a new direction for all these companies, it is quite interesting to see the trends in this regard.

So in this article, we go over some of the subtle highlights from the smartphone sector in 2015. We see organizations retrace their steps and alter their paths. We look at how smartphone OEMs did things–differently.

BLACKBERRY

This has to be the most obvious instance for a smartphone OEM making an overwhelming alteration in their business and production plans. For all these years, BlackBerry vehemently stuck to their own operating system for their devices. Of course, with the popularization of touch screen devices, we saw them develop BlackBerry 10 OS for the touch phones.

While the world was slowly inclined towards Android and iOS – ultimately making them the most powerful smartphone ecosystems on the planet – BlackBerry still resisted the urge to develop Android based operating systems for their devices.

Well, until 2015, of course.

The past year saw the launch of the BlackBerry Priv – BlackBerry’s first ever device running the Android ecosystem in all its vanilla glory. With specifications rivaling that of the most powerful phones in the market, with BlackBerry’s sophisticated security suite on board and a signature physical QWERTY keyboard to boot, the Priv is a perfect amalgamation of all things BlackBerry should be.

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Will the launch of the Android enabled Priv open up new avenues for BlackBerry? Is this a Hail Mary of sorts for the company as far as the dying (let’s not sugar coat it) smartphone division is considered?

As of now, we can merely speculate with a lot of doubt. But indeed, it shows that BlackBerry has decided to start a new chapter in its smartphone legacy, and the company’s moves in 2016 will certainly be interesting.

APPLE

Apple had an eventful year as well, right from a more contextually qualified version of Siri, to new phones and tablets being launched. But look beyond the bells and whistles, and you’ll see Apple taking steps that would have been deemed slightly odd.

The most obvious example in this regard would have to be the launch of the Apple Pencil. A stylus to supplement the massive iPad Pro, designed primarily for artists and other creative professionals. And yet, would we have expected a stylus from Apple? Flashback to the launch event of the first ever iPhone, and not many people can forget Steve Jobs’ tirade against styli, and how the iPhone aimed at eliminating the need to use one.

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But we’ve come a long way since then. While phones are now completely stylus independent, tablets aimed at artists call for added dimensions to improve the perfection in designs. Ergo, Apple’s move to deviate from Jobs’ philosophy, and launch the Apple Pencil.

That’s not all, in fact. Just recently, Apple launched a new battery case for the iPhone 6 and 6S. The $99 case presents a very unusual form factor, and takes rivals such as Mophie head on.

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All in all, we’ve seen Apple put extra effort in accessories besides the devices this year. ‘Think Different’ is not just their marketing slogan anymore, and their steps in the last year might change the way the entire smartphone sector functions in 2016.

MICROSOFT

Not so much to write here regarding their devices, per se. Of course, the Lumia 950 and 950 XL come with quite a few interesting specifications – namely liquid cooling and Iris scanners, first for any smartphone ever. Over that is of course the Display Dock and the whole Continuum ecosystem that they are working on – which should make the transition over multiple devices more seamless and smoother.

But I’m more interested in how they’ve given up on the monopoly on Cortana. The virtual assistant – a trademark of any Microsoft device in the past two years – has now been officially launched for both Android and iOS. While that might not be unusual in the least, since smartphone OEMs are always launching applications, it does bring to the fore an interesting observation: giving up a trump card.

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A similar scenario was observed when BlackBerry launched BBM for Android and iOS, and while that was a welcome move for non-BlackBerry users wanting to experience the messenger application, it did reduce the exclusivity of the whole BBM platform.

For Microsoft’s sake, I sincerely hope that they have a solid reason for giving up Cortana and making it available for other operating systems as well. I for one completely agree with Microsoft’s former CEO Steve Ballmer, when he said that Microsoft should focus on enabling Android apps to run on Windows phones.

Nonetheless, in both hardware and software, Microsoft is doing things out of the ordinary, and their situation in 2016 will be a key factor to keep an eye on.

BONUS: NICHÉ OPERATING SYSTEMS

This would be a good time to bring in a vital statistic. The following statistic shows the trends in the smartphone operating system share over the past few quarters.

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Here, let’s talk about the people who aren’t in the mainstream picture – the 0.4%. I’m talking about the other operating systems that hope to compete in an environment teeming with Android and iOS based devices.

Mozilla has had direct ups and downs within just two months’ span. The up was when they launched an Android application which could mimic the Firefox OS for smartphones and give the users an idea of how the Firefox OS was designed.

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The down cam on December 8th, at the mozlando conference, where the company announced that it would no longer be working with carriers to ship Firefox OS based phones.

Another company did the rounds of the internet not too long back. Jolla is a company which presented a new approach to how people use their devices, with their Sailfish OS. But news from recent times has confirmed that Jolla is now a dying company, with lots of layoffs and in a major state of decline.

The coming year might not be fruit worthy for alternate OS developers, but then again, we’re in an era where trends tend to catch on very quickly. It will be interesting to see some new variant of an operating system being announced, if not launched, in 2016!

TO CONCLUDE

Without a doubt, 2015 has been one of the most interesting years as far as smartphone trends were considered. Previously, trends were easy to detect and analyze, but things have been somewhat erratic in 2015, and rightly so. In a highly competitive market, a wise thing to do would be try and take all steps necessary to gain a necessary edge over the competitors, and sometimes that involves doing things differently.

So here’s looking forward to a new year, with a lot more interesting trends to look out for. Beyond the mere specifications of devices, patterns are being conjured in smartphone OEM headquarters worldwide. As an analyst, I can barely wait to study these patterns and trends as and when they come by in the coming year!

[About the author: Nivedit is a programmer and gadget freak. He is part of editorial team at FindYogi.com]

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